Stewardship is an important concept that encompasses so much more than finances, yet money is an important aspect of stewardship and for some, it is the predominant aspect. I suspect the fact that Jesus had a lot to say about money contributes to that. So when it comes to personal money management, we have access to Scripture and a wealth of other resources and tools to guide our way, so that we are good stewards of whatever finances God entrusts to us.
Sounds straightforward enough, doesn’t it? Yet life has a way of exploding at times, and all of our plans seem to explode with it. In those times, practicing good personal financial stewardship may still be straightforward and simple – but it isn’t easy. It’s hard. I’d like to share with you two stories, from two different Christ-followers, with their permission. Both have learned to lean on God, work within His will when it comes to personal finances, have experienced His faithfulness – and have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8).
Planning can go a long way
The first story I’d like to share with you is the account of a woman who would have celebrated 30 years of marriage this June, but instead is in her 19th year of being a single mom, due to divorce. She has three children who were all under 10 years of age at the time of the divorce. As I listened, her story started with Christmas, when she was married, and the familiar pattern of ‘doing Christmas on a credit card’. The cycle of impulse buying in December by both parents, with no plan, no budget and no communication, followed by the shocking credit card bill in January and months of paying off debt amidst varying emotions of anger, resentment and blame was well established.
When she became a single mother, she found she was experiencing too much month at the end of the money on a regular basis and not just at Christmas. For the next two years, the Christmas mindset didn’t change. She felt she needed to keep spending and provide what her children wanted. So much had changed in their young lives that she wanted to be able to maintain what they were used to at Christmas, more out of guilt than necessity. Christmas on a credit card continued, which meant that she was always scrambling to pay off that extra debt until August of the next year. In order to accomplish that she sacrificed – no vacations, no personal entertainment, no shopping for herself. She took on extra part-time work and looked for creative inexpensive (or free!) ways of doing things. After two years of that, she realized that she needed a better plan, so she did establish a budgeted amount per child for Christmas expenses, with the new budget being about half of what she would normally spend. She had now moved into a state of ‘controlled planned debt’ and while she didn’t have the money to pay the credit card bill in January, she owed less and had it paid off more quickly.
Three years ago, when she had paid off the previous Christmas (and realized what that was really costing in interest alone), she figured out that she could keep paying this amount into a savings account, even though that still meant sacrificing. She found that when Christmas came and went, she had most of the amount saved and it only took two or three months to pay off the balance. She then re-evaluated the Christmas budget and looked at different, creative ways to give gifts (eg. cashing in Air Miles for gift cards), took her total amount that she would spend, divided that by 12, and started to put that amount away each month for the Christmas fund. This past Christmas, when the credit card bill came in January, she paid it. In full. For the first time!
During this time she has looked at her overall budget and overhauled it – looking for ways to streamline, searching for the margins. She also wanted to increase her giving at her local church. She has always given, but knows she’s still not tithing yet. Each year she has increased her giving by the same percentage as her salary increase and she’s steadily working toward 10%. She has money set aside in an emergency fund, separate from the Christmas fund. She has participated in Joanne Bell’s seminar for managing personal finances and found it to be affirming as well as providing her with tools to do more. She has re-evaluated her mortgage and increased her payments so that the mortgage will be paid in full by her retirement.
She’s giving more, saving more, has reduced stress and worry, and has been blessed with money left at the end of the month! She’s also taught her children valuable lessons about saving money, giving (both financially and through volunteering), living within your means and finding fun things to do and buy on a small budget.
God honours faithfulness
The second story I’m sharing is also from a single mom, told in her own words:
“In 2005, as I was going through a separation, I became worried about my financial situation and wondered how I was going to be able to support myself and my three children financially – ages 15, 13, and 11. I stopped my regular practice of tithing because I couldn’t see how there was going to be enough. I did give the occasional offering, but only when I felt I could afford it.
“By the fall of 2008, my financial situation got to the point that all my savings had been used up and I just couldn’t make ends meet. I was renewing my mortgage, trying to get the payments lower so that my children could remain in the home they had always known. At the time of my separation, a friend had offered to help financially – they had helped me finance a recording project that fall, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for more. By October, I finally had to ask my mom for a loan in order to make the household payments for the next little while.
“I don’t know the exact reason why, but at the beginning of this year I decided to get back to my practice of tithing. I still didn’t know how there was going to be enough money coming in to cover all the expenses, but in January of 2009, I calculated what my tithe would be – 10 % of all my income, and placed that in the offering envelope. I gave the envelope to my son as I was heading up to the choir room for rehearsal (I am the choir director at our church). I didn’t want anyone to see the amount on the envelope and I remember telling him to make sure that the envelope was face-down on the offering plate!
“That same morning at church, a couple handed me an envelope, explaining that there was a cheque inside, and they were acting on the direction of the Holy Spirit. When I got home I opened the envelope. Inside was a note explaining that their gesture seemed a bit reckless to them, and probably as well to me (I knew that their financial situation was also precarious) but they had decided to step out and live more according to 2 Corinthians 5:7 “We live by faith, not by sight”.
“The amount of the cheque was the exact amount of money that I had borrowed from my mom. They had no way of knowing that, and I had no way of knowing what was going to happen that day. My friends explained that they felt they should have acted on it sooner, but on that day, January 18, 2009, both of us acted on faith, and the result was God’s blessing. I then shared my part of the story with them.
“I have kept up tithing and my bank accounts (chequing and savings) are back up to the normal amounts.”
I know that God’s blessing to us doesn’t always mean more money – the ways He chooses to bless us are countless. But these two courageous women have experienced His blessing in tangible financial ways and they serve as models for us that it can be done. When there seems to be no way, God will make a way. It can be done. I’m encouraged by that and so thankful for my heavenly Father’s faithfulness….and the way He works through ‘people with skin on’ to remind us again and again of His love.